Persons of Letters
Aaand we’re back!
The cause of my absence from dotCommonweal for the past few months and the subject of this post are one and the same.
I know this sounds kinda weird but from the age of 17 I’ve never wanted to be anything else than a “man of letters.” Samuel Johnson was my hero.
I suspect few of us even know how to define that term nowadays much less spot bona fide members of the species.
But persons of letters were important citizens in what was once also (quaintly) called “the republic of letters.”
Over at The American Scholar William Zinnser has a column about persons of letters as a vanishing breed.
Men and women of letters were the willing workhorses of the literary enterprise; they saw that the caravan kept moving. They formed committees and juries and gave awards and held readings and signings and receptions and wrote critical essays for obscure quarterlies.
(My impression is that there was a subset you could call Catholic persons of letters–clustering around a few small journals and magazines, now largely defunct. Wasn’t there one called The Month?)
Are today’s bloggers the inheritors of this mantle? It’s hard to say.
All I can say is that changes in the economy and in the culture have made it nearly impossible for men and women of letters to exist in their pure state anymore. For my part I’ve found that instead of writing and editing I need to spend a huge proportion of my time as a fundraiser/marketer just to keep my own literary enterprise alive. I don’t mean to play the Stradivarius of self-pity here, but that’s honestly why I’ve been absent — raising money and creating programs that people will pay for so that this little corner of the republic of letters can ride out the recession.
I think we’ve made it through the worst, and now that a couple programs are up and running…well, Deo volente, I’ll be a more regular presence here.